This website definitely has the inside track on the subject, but still has something to offer everyone. Along with aircraft, there are panels, scenery, photo galleries, previews and reviews, and regular articles by people directly involved with the ďrealĒ aircraft.
What was the initial motivation to author such a niche site?
This website really began as a result of two things. First was the availability of free website hosting for sites related to Flight Simulator. That was at flightsimmers.net (sadly they are no longer active). The second factor was that I build websites as a side business and was bored over a Thanksgiving weekend three years ago. So I decided to see what I could throw together in a couple of days. The initial design and purpose has not changed much over the past three and a half years though the sections included have grown as contributors have come forward.
Why the Mirage?
I selected the Mirage because next to the F-4 Phantom II it was always my favorite subject for modeling and as a result of that I had drawers of reference material on the subject. And also why not? I was aware of 18 Mirage related Flightsim aircraft in November 1999. That's what I started with. At the end of one year that number had more than tripled. 2001 was not as active a year but there were over 70 new aircraft released during the third year. In addition to that, there are always new instrument panels and related scenery that come along. As Iíve kept my eyes and ears open Iíve found that it's a pretty rich subject.
Along that line, have there been difficulties faced during the development of the site. And is gaining sufficient content (in light of the site's scope) a difficulty?
At times there have been lulls in how quickly new aircraft, panels, etc., are released but this has actually been to the benefit of the site. It has caused me to expand in other areas such as the Galleries and from time to time Iíve thrown together a repaint of my own. A lot of folks have sent me images and information on the Mirage from their own collections. These have been compiled into the Slide Shows that are released from time to time, usually when there is nothing new to release or when the subject matter is timely. Since most Mirage designers now send me preview copies of their upcoming aircraft, or involve me in the development early on, I put together Previews and Reviews from time to time. As far as my own repaints go I've been painting FS aircraft since it became an option back in the days of the first Flight Shop. So painting my favorite subject is something I enjoy very much. Though I find I get bogged down in the research at times.
Where do you see the site heading in the future?
I think a visual overhaul is due pretty soon. But finding the time to do so is a problem. Content wise, the site will proceed mostly along the same route but expand in all areas. More repaints to start with. I think weíre getting to the point where some very good and accurate examples of the more significant Mirage versions have been developed in either FSDS2 or Gmax by some very capable designers: Kirk Olsson, Jason Ashworth, Romain Lucas, Cyril Pioffet, and Denis and Daniel da Silva Oliveira come to mind first (and not in any particular order guys). With the requirement of good visual models out of the way, I see revised flight models and of course repaints coming along. I have several slide shows prepared for release thanks to a new contact in South Africa. And perhaps there will be a Mirage flight manual written for Flight Simulator from a contact in Canada.
How much of your time do you have to dedicate to your site's maintenance?
My goal has always been to offer something new to visitors on a weekly basis since the site opened in 1999. In the beginning that meant I spent an awful lot of time scouring the Internet looking for aircraft, panels, scenery, etc., that were out there but not necessarily found at the usual big download sites. In fact I pretty much cleaned the big sites out in the first couple of months. That's still true. There are a lot of downloads on my site that aren't found at avsim, flightsim, simviation, fsplanet, faitmain, etc. If I find something related to the Mirage, I get permission to either host the file or add a link for downloads. So there is a lot of stuff here that will probably never be on the big sites. They collect and I scrounge. You certainly will not find this extensive a collection anywhere else. If I count the time spent to use the aircraft, panel, or scenery in Flight Simulator or CFS then it takes several hours a week to maintain the site. The actual time spent updating the pages is at most an hour per week.
What are your audience figures like - and how does the traffic compare with your expectations?
Visitation has gradually ramped up to the current average of about 450 unique visitors a week. There had been 25,000 visitors at the one-year mark in November 2000. The current count is about 170,000 visitors. Unfortunately not everyone comes through the front door so not everyone gets counted. There have been a couple events that really increased traffic. The first was a mention of the website at simvol.org "Le site francophone de Flight Simulator - The French-speaking site of Flight Simulator". Traffic increased quite a bit at that point and especially from European flight simmers. That trend has continued. Presently only about 30 percent of the visitors come from the US. The balance is international with 30 percent of those being French. That has been pretty consistent. Another event that gave visitation figures a boost was a preview of Kirk Olsson's Mirage F1 in May of last year. I asked a large FS site to run an announcement inviting their visitors to check out the review page I had put together. The images were large and I foolishly went out of town for the weekend. When I got back I found that visitation had gone through the roof for a couple days and I had accumulated $59 in bandwidth over usage fees. As the CEO of the site concerned later commented, "...be careful what you ask for". The result of each of these events has been an increase in site awareness and about a 20 percent increase in regular daily traffic. As a result I decided to move the website to where there was plenty of room for expansion and no bandwidth limits. Part of that package was getting an actual domain name. As far as expectations go I think itís great. Iím thrilled that anybody stops by at all.
Perhaps a little on yourself, your background, and your personal tastes as far as FS is concerned (aircraft, etc)?
Iíll be brief. I could ramble on for hours. I've been an aircraft fan since I was aware that there was such a thing, and that goes back a long ways. I've been using FS since the 16 color days of FS4 and started building aircraft beginning when AAF was released. I was originally interested in twin GA aircraft and made several. I eventually became acquainted with Tom Gibson of propliner fame and with his help made the Convair 580 with Flight Shop back in 1998. After a couple years of widespread use, that aircraft model was taken to the next level (FSDS) by Dee Waldren, and then imported into Gmax by Greg Pepper. Prior to Tom Gibsonís latest tweaking of Gregís iteration there were always some visual aspects pointing back to my first version in all of these subsequent releases. With the exception of the Mirage 4000 and the F-4, the Convair 580 is my favorite twin. A bonus to my knowing site CEO's has been my association with a great bunch of guys (too many to mention) at FreeFlight Design. They are all about building aircraft and helping others with their projects. I havenít built anything from scratch in several years. I find that Iím a better collaborator and coordinator of projects. In my day job I am a Software Quality Assurance Analyst so I get to listen to music and play with computers all day.
What do you enjoy most about it or what have some of the benefits been?
By far the biggest benefit has been meeting other Mirage enthusiasts around the world. The result of that has been my being directly involved in their projects by providing research materials, being a preview tester/critic (Iím famous for my novel length feedback emails), and in some cases directly influencing the decisions made as to Mirage version, markings, armaments, etc. Some examples have been the entire Mirage series from Alphasim, they arenít the best but they are a lot better than they were going to be originally. My email conversations with Kirk Olsson early on led to providing information for the FS2002 version of his Mirage F1 and to the release of the F1B. Another was bringing Romain Lucas and Eric Marciano together on the Mirage 4000 project. The result was an awesome aircraft/panel package and soon an equally awesome Super Etendard. I am also working with Chuck Dyer on a series of Mirage F1s based on Kirk Olsson's F1C for use in CFS2. The first three have been released and the final three will introduce three new visual models. Thatís very exciting for the repaint opportunities. And the longest running association has been working with Jason Ashworth as a tester/promoter for his series of Mirage III and Cheetah aircraft. Oh, and discovering that my website was linked to from the Dassault corporate website. That was a fun surprise.
All in all itís been a fun ride so far. I wouldnít do much different. If you think you want to do something similar make an early commitment, get a domain name and arrange for hosting with a normal website hosting company that wonít close shop before you do. Promote the site as much as possible in email and forum signatures. But donít come off like you are the last word on the subject. As people come to your website and see what you have to offer, eventually they may come to that conclusion themselves. But most of all have fun and donít take any of it too seriously....itís only a hobby.
Article by Frank Safranek